Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Five) “The Paranoid Great Movie Queen …”

The final song on John Cale’s 1973 album Paris 1919, Antarctica Starts Here pays homage to the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard and in particular the main character of Norma Desmond.  The inspired casting of the film placed Gloria Swanson in the somewhat autobiographical role of Norma Desmond (“The paranoid great movie queen”), a deluded, tragic and ambitious actress whose film career declined with the advent of the talkies (“Lines come out and struggle with, The empty voice that speaks”).  Cale’s hushed singing tone in the song reflects these lines.  We can look at Antarctica Starts Here as being sung from the perspective of Joe Gillis, played by William Holden in the film.  Gillis is an unsuccessful screenwriter who is lured into Desmond’s fantasy world where she dreams of a triumphant return to the stage.

Antarctica Starts Here makes full use of the scenes in the film in which Norma Desmond dresses up and acts out here her former glories to her captive audience, either by acting and reciting lines to Joe Gillis or by putting on her old films.  This is reflected in Antarctica Starts Here with the opening lines: “The Paranoid great movie queen, Sits idly fully armed, The powder and mascara there, A warning light for charm, We see her every movie night, The strong against the weak”.

In the second verse of the song, we are given a snapshot into Norma Desmond’s character, that of the vain faded movie star, weary of her enduring struggle to return to past glories:  “Her heart is so tired now, Of kindnesses gone by … The vanity, insanity her hungry heart forgave, The fading bride’s dull beauty grows just begging to be seen”.  The lines “Like broken glasses in a drain, Gone down but not well spent” are evocative of the end of a party – the end of the era in which the actress thrived.

The final verse of the song features the line, “Her schoolhouse mind has windows now”, perhaps reflecting the way in which the actress is a controlling influence on Joe Gillis, a teacher giving her pupil a history lesson, but one about herself.  The line “Where handsome creatures come to watch” is perhaps a reference to the scene in which Norma Desmond is playing bridge with her friends, “dim figures you may still remember from the silent days.  I used to think of them as her Wax Works” as the narrator says in the film.  The final lines, “The anaesthetic wearing off, Antarctica starts here” are probably the most curious lines in a song full of curious lines, but ones that make for a wonderful ending to both the song and the album.  They perhaps denote Joe’s realisation that he has been lured into Norma Desmond’s world and the oddness of it, the doping effect of the many gifts she lavishes upon him to keep him under her spell becoming apparent and his need to escape.

Antarctica Starts Here is, just like the other songs on Paris 1919, an odd song filled with lyrics that can be read in a number of ways, such is the genius and complexity of Cale’s song writing.  Just as with his other material, one can sit and ponder upon what a single line may mean for hours and the fact that Cale rarely discusses what his lyrics are about just serves to keep us guessing.  There are many twists and turns in Antarctica Starts Here, such as the way in which Cale manages to fit lyrics based on a film character around the themes on the album.  A main theme on the album is war, with references to places of battle littered throughout.  In Antarctica Starts Here, the line “The road that leads from Barbary to here” refers to the Barbary Wars.  The juxtaposition of lyrics about a faded Hollywood star from a film and lyrics alluding to a war in a completely different era make for an odd but brilliant and truly unique combination which ends a stunning album beautifully.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Two): “New York is the Place Where …”

Right from the early days of The Velvet Underground, Brooklyn born Lou Reed had taken the location, people and elements of New York, usually the darker elements, and put them to a unique musical backdrop in order to tell a story.  Take for example, I’m Waiting for the Man from Velvet Underground and Nico (1967), a song about purchasing $26 worth of heroin in a Harlem brownstone near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street, written from the perspective of the purchaser.

In the late 1960s, Reed (along with other members of The Velvet Underground:  John Cale, Stirling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, together with Nico) was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Factory.  In 1966, Warhol set his sights on the world of rock music, sponsoring The Velvet Underground.  From The Factory, Reed drew inspiration for many of the Velvet Underground’s songs, setting the ‘low life’ characters that were an integral part of the scene and the goings on inside The Factory to music.  Take for example, Heroin (from Velvet Underground and Nico) and later, Candy Says (from The Velvet Underground, 1968).

Candy Says is a precursor to the themes expressed on one of Reed’s best known songs, Walk on the Wild Side, from his 1972 David Bowie produced classic, Transformer.  Candy Says tells the story of Candy Darling, a transgender Warhol Superstar who starred in Warhol’s films Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971).  Four years after Candy Says, Darling would also become one of Reed’s muses for Walk on the Wild Side.

Jayne County said of Reed’s transfixation with characters such as Candy Darling:

“Lou Reed was fascinated with trannies, transsexuals particularly.  He loved transvestites, he’s fascinated with transvestites.  But Lou, at one time actually had a girlfriend called Rachel and she was a transsexual.  It’s only natural that Lou would write a song where three of the characters are drag queens”.

Reed struggled with his own sexuality throughout most of his life.  When he was 16, his parents consented to Reed being given electroconvulsive therapy in an attempt to cure his homosexual feelings.  Reed appeared to blame his father for what he had been put through and wrote about the incident in his 1974 song Kill Your Sons, from the album Sally Can’t Dance.

In an interview with Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for the book Please Kill Me:  An Uncensored Oral History of Punk (1996), Reed said of the electroconvulsive therapy:

“They put this thing down your throat so you don’t swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head.  That’s what was recommended in Rockland State Hospital to discourage homosexual feelings.  The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable.  You can’t read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again”.

For Walk on the Wild Side, Reed remembered the transsexuals and transvestites of Warhol’s Factory scene and painted a tale of how they had come to be in New York.  In the first verse of the song, we are introduced to Holly:  “Holly came from Miami, FLA”.  Holly refers to Holly Woodlawn, a transvestite born Haraldo Santiago Franeschi Rodriguez Danhakl, born in Puerto Rico, 1946 who “Hitched hiked her way across the USA, Plucked her eyebrows on the way, Shaved her legs and then he was a she”.  Holly is best remembered for starring in Warhol’s film Trash (1970) alongside Joe Dallesandro, whom I shall mention later.

In the second verse, we see Candy Darling return into Reed’s songwriting:  “Candy came from out on the Island”.  Transsexual Candy Darling was born James Lawrence Slattery on Long Island, New York in 1944.  Candy Darling died of cancer in 1974.

In the third verse, “Little Joe” who “never once gave it away” refers to Joe Dallesandro, born in Pensacols, Florida in 1948.  Dallesandro was the ‘straight’ butch Brooklyn street kid who had turned to gay hustling before his discovery by Warhol and director Paul Morrissey, hence the lines, “A hustle here and a hustle there, New York City is the place where …”  Warhol and Morrissey used Dallesandro’s universal sex appeal to their advantage in several full-length cinema projects, most notably Lonesome Cowboys (1968); Trash (1970) and Heat (1972).  Later Dallesandro crossed over into mainstream films, playing the part of Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano in The Cotton Club (1984) alongside Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins.  He is now considered to be an icon of underground cinema and of gay subculture.

“Sugar Plum Fairy” in verse four, refers to actor Joe Campbell and not to a drug dealer, as often mistakenly thought by listeners.  Campbell, who’s nickname was the “Sugar Plum Fairy” appeared in a few of Warhol’s films, including My Hustler (1965) and Nude Restaurant (1967).  Campbell was also known for being in a relationship with openly gay politician Harvey Milk.  Campbell passed away in 2005 following a lengthy battle with AIDS.

“Jackie is just speeding away, Thought she was James Dean for a day …” refers to drag queen Jackie Curtis.  Curtis was born John Holder Jr. In 1947 and performed both in and out of drag in films, most notably Warhol’s Flesh and Women in Revolt, as well as onstage.  He was also a prolific writer.  Curtis has also been credited for, in some part, inspiring the glam rock movement of the 1970’s due to his use of lipstick, glitter, bright red hair and ripped dresses and stockings during drag performances.  Warhol once described Curtus as follows:  “Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen.  Jackie is an artist.  A pioneer without a frontier”.  Curtis was also a heavy drug user, hence the aforementioned lines alluding to speed and its effects and the following lines, “Then I guess she had to crash, Valium would have helped that bash”.  Curtis succumbed to his addiction to heroin and various other drugs and died following an overdose in 1985.

Amazingly, for a song that concerns itself with such subject matter and contains phrases such as “giving head”, Walk on the Wild Side was never banned by the BBC or by most US radio stations because they simply did not understand the references.  Walk on the Wild Side did however see some edited versions at the time, but instead of taking out the reference to oral sex, various edits replace the line “And the coloured girls say” with “And the girls all say”.  This could simply just be because many radio stations in 1972 were limited to a time frame of 3 to 3 and a half minutes per song, which the full version of Walk on the Wild Side lasts 4 minutes and 12 seconds.  Speaking about Walk on the Wide Side in Victor Bokris’s biography Transformer:  The Lou Reed Story (1994), Reed said:  “I always thought it would be kind of fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet”.

Reed continued to use the backdrop of New York and its people, often those caught on the outside of society, in his songs throughout his career.  The Transformer album notably features several songs written about the New York scene that he loved, including Andy’s Chest, a song with a Dadaist lyrical structure written for Andy Warhol following his failed assassination attempt by Valerie Solanas in 1968.

The album also notably includes New York Telephone Conversation, a rather sarcastic song about the spreading of tittle-tattle by telephone in “the city of shows”.

Later in his career, Reed would use the imagery of New York, still using inhabitants regarded as ‘low life’, to great effect on his 1989 album New York.  Whilst the New York album is highly regarded for the strength and force of its lyrics, it drew much criticism at the time for its apparent pedestrian “truck driver” musicianship.  However, the music of the New York album is purposely simplistic in order to not distract from the frankness of the lyrical content.  Throughout the fourteen songs featured on the album, the lyrics are profuse and carefully woven into a concept album.  In the liner notes for the album, Reed directs the listener to hear the album in one sitting “as though it were a book or a movie”.

On New York, an older Reed seemed more much more bitter towards his once beloved city.  Take for example, the lyrics in one of the album’s tales of life in a New York Slum, Dirty Blvd.  “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ‘em, That’s what the statue of bigotry says, Your poor huddled masses, Let’s club ‘em to death, And get it over with and just dump them on the boulevard”, says Reed with more than a hint of sarcastic anger.  These lines are a play on the 1883 poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, which in 1903 was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the second verse of which reads:

“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!””

Elsewhere on the New York album, we find the song Romeo Had Juliette, a song about New York’s hopeless, hopeful, innocent, violent and greedy.  Romeo Had Juliette is a dark and bitter modern day take on Romeo and Juliet but also a poem to the beautiful but dirty and wrecked city that Reed adored, complete with the awe-inspiring opening lines, “Caught between the twisted stars, The plotted lines, the faulty map, That brought Columbus to New York”.  Elsewhere, Reed tells of how “Manhattan’s sinking like a rock, Into the filthy Hudson, what a shock, They wrote a book about it, They said it was like ancient Rome”, expressing Reed’s concerns that like Ancient Rome, New York had become too big for its own good.

Also on the album is the song Halloween Parade, about the annual gay celebration in Greenwich Village and to all intents and purposes, a dark sequel to Walk on the Wild Side.  Halloween Parade is a post-AIDS crisis tribute to those who had fallen.  “There ain’t no Harry, no Virgin Mary, You Won’t hear those voices again, And Johnny Rio and Rotten Rita, You’ll never see those faces again” says Reed solemnly.

Song of the Day: Visual Artists in Music (Day Five). “Pinned to the Edges of Vision”.

“My painting is visible images which conceal nothing … they evoke mystery and indeed when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘what does that mean?  It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable”.

– Rene Magritte.

Rene Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist who became well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking pieces.  His work is known for challenging the preconditioned perceptions of reality.  Whilst the artist’s work is often imbued with a sense of mystery, the artist himself was far less conspicuous.   Magritte lived on a street much like any other in Brussels.  His house was much like any other in the local area too, proper and ordinary like the man himself.  It was this mundane nature of everyday life which the artist valued greatly and used to his advantage, taking ordinary things and imbuing them with a sense of something less ordinary through his unique vision.

“I want to breathe new life into the way we look at the ordinary things around us.  But how should one look?  Like a child, the first time it encounters a reality outside itself.  I live in the same state of innocence as a child, who believes he can reach out from his cot and grasp a bird in the sky”.

– Rene Magritte

Upstairs in the Surrealist artist’s home of twenty five years, which has since been turned into a museum, his wife lovingly preserved his final unfinished canvas, perhaps as John Cale says in his song Magritte, from the 2003 album HoboSapiens, “stretched, For umbrellas and bowler hats, Everyone knows Magritte did that”.

You can see Magritte in his array of self portraits, often “Inside a canvas of blue saturated with beauty, In a web of glass”.  You can also see portrayals of the artist’s wife, Georgette, as well as glimpses of their modest Brussels home.  There is an autobiographical quality to Magritte’s work but what of the mystery that surrounds it?  We do not need to look for the mysterious as it exists everywhere, even in the most conventional of lives.

“Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see”.

– Rene Magritte.

Images that are illustrative bring about a powerful paradox in the mind of the viewer.  Magritte’s work is beautiful in its clarity and simplicity but can also invoke unsettling thoughts.  They are suggesting to you that they hide no mystery but they are also often odd and puzzling.  With his tribute song to the artist, John Cale manages to evoke the same feelings that we get when looking at one of the artist’s pictures.  On starting to listen to the song, we are drawn in to a string soaked discussion of the beauty of the artist’s work.  Yet, in the second verse, we are faced with the sound of “a car-horn in the street outside And a museum with its windows open”.   Later in the song, Cale says, “Somebody’s coming that hates us, Better watch the art”.  This is the paradox and mystery in Cale’s Magritte, a seemingly beautiful ode to an artist actually appears to be discussing something altogether more sinister.  Is a song which starts as a loving tribute to the artist’s work actually about an art heist at “a museum with its windows open”?  Is the “car-horn in the street” a getaway car?  Are the people who hate the narrator and his accomplices, those “legends of conspicuous men”, the police?  This is the mystery in Cale’s song, as seen quite often in his work, just as in Rene Magritte’s work:  It is left open to interpretation, out there somewhere, “pinned to the edges of vision”.

“This arbitrarily reconstructed verbal / imagerial lexicon evinces that, in an alternate, oneiric state of logic, words and objects can acquire new relationships, as they are not transcendentally united”.

– Rene Magritte.

Song of the Day: Visual Artists in Music. Day Two: “Pablo Picasso Never Got Called An Asshole”.

The Modern Lovers released their debut album The Modern Lovers in 1976.  The album is notable for the fact that the recording process began a full four years prior to its eventual release with many of it’s songs dating back to at least 1970, mainly due to band line up changes, changes of producer (both John Cale and Kim Fowley were involved in the production at different times) and their record company, Warner Brothers, eventually withdrawing their support of the album.  The recording sessions for the album was also said to deeply affected by the death of Jonathan Richman’s friend Gram Parsons.  On the day before Gram Parson’s death, he and Richman had been playing miniature golf.  The Modern Lovers was eventually released to rave reviews and the influence of what has come to be known as one of the greatest art rock albums of all time, could immediately be seen in aspiring punk bands on both sides of the Atlantic.  Notably, the Sex Pistols covered The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, which can be heard on The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980).  The Modern Lovers’ original recording of the song became a UK hit in 1977.

One of the most notorious tracks on the album is Pablo Picasso, a song about the charismatic 20th century artist and his ability, despite his diminutive stature, to attract women.  The song Pablo Picasso finds the artist re-imagined as a Cadillac Eldorado driving kerb crawler, who “never got called an asshole”, picking up women on the streets of New York.  In an interview with Boston Groupie News in 1980, Richman explained that the song was inspired by his own adolescent self-consciousness with women:

“I read about him when I was 18.  I moved to New York and was intimidated by these girls who thought were attractive.  I was afraid to approach them.  I didn’t have too high a self-image.  I was self-conscious and I thought, “Well, Pablo Picasso, he’s only 5’3” but he didn’t let things like that bother him”.  So I made up this song right after I saw those girls.  You can picture it; I had this sad little look on my face and I was thinking, “Why am I so afraid to approach these girls?”  That was a song of courage for me”.

Such was the arduous nature of the album’s recording process that the first version of Pablo Picasso to actually be released, a full year before The Modern Lovers’ version was eventually released, was an intense rendering by album’s producer John Cale on his 1975 album, Helen of Troy, resplendent with slide guitar and a gutsier sound than the original.  Cale also plays the hammering piano part on the original Modern Lovers’ version.

Following his departure from The Modern Lovers, keyboardist Jerry Harrison played Pablo Picasso live in the early days of his next band Talking Heads, in which he played keyboards and guitar from 1976.

More recently, Pablo Picasso was given a rebirth after it was covered by David Bowie on his 2003 album Reality.  Bowie had originally planned to record Pablo Picasso on his never realised Pin Ups 2 project way back in the 70’s.  On the Reality version, Pablo Picasso was given a complete Bowie makeover with additional refrains and a newly imagined musical backdrop with neat Spanish guitar intro and outro and a big reverb laden sound.  With this, The Modern Lovers and Pablo Picasso had entered the arena of stadium rock.

Song of the Day: Visual Artists in Music. Day One: “It’s Warhol, actually.”

Andy Warhol, David Bowie’s musical tribute to one of his biggest inspirations, from the album Hunky Dory (1971) is just one of the many Bowie songs influenced by the American counterculture of the 1960’s.  Bowie’s interest in Warhol was in no small part due to his love of The Velvet Underground, the band whom Andy Warhol managed and was, aesthetically, something of a svengali figure to.

Bowie was an avid Velvet Underground fan and the experimental art rock ethic of the music with its Lou Reed penned lyrical tales of New York’s dark underbelly was a key factor in influencing Bowie to ditch the whimsical pop style of his early years.  Bowie has performed the Velvet underground songs I’m Waiting For The Man (from their album Velvet Underground and Nico, 1967) and White Light / White Heat, (from the album White Light / White Heat, 1968),  at different points in his career, most notably in the early 70’s.

Bowie also produced and played on Lou Reed’s Transformer album in 1972. Transformer included Lou Reed’s own song for Andy Warhol, Andy’s Chest, a Dada inspired piece written for Andy following the artist’s attempted murder by Valerie Solanas in 1968.

Lou Reed would later go on to release a full length tribute album to Andy Warhol, Songs For Drella (1990), with Velvet Underground collaborator John Cale, following Warhol’s unexpected death in 1987.

As well as Bowie’s tribute to Andy Warhol, Hunky Dory also featured Queen Bitch, a self-proclaiming Velvet Underground pastiche (see the sleeve notes of Hunky Dory:  “Some V.U white light”) in tribute to the band and in particular, Lou Reed.   The sound of The Velvet Underground would provide a major template for the glam rock sound adopted by Bowie on Hunky Dory’s seminal follow up album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972).

Whilst The Velvet Underground were important to Bowie’s sound, Bowie’s image was greatly influenced by Andy Warhol.  Andy Warhol understood the media like no other and showed Bowie how to use it before it used you.  This was done by consciously adopting an image.  The success of Andy Warhol also made it more important to have an image.  Bowie was at the zenith of his success when he displayed complete invulnerability, much like Warhol’s, which hinged on the sense that he wasn’t quite human.  There was no fixed personality, more an ever changing array of personalities, a myriad of masks created by the singer.

Bowie played his tribute song to Andy Warhol when he met him in 1971.  Warhol reportedly didn’t like the song as he thought the lyrics made fun of his physical appearance.  Speaking about his meeting with Andy Warhol, in a BBC interview in 2002, Bowie said:

“The only touch point that we had was a pair of shoes that I was wearing from Anello and Davide, they were real strange little jobs.  I think they were yellow.  As far as I remember they were yellow with a half, no, a two inch heel on them and he really liked them.  And of course it occurred to me that the reason that he was getting quite fascinated with these was that he used to be a shoe designer, or at least he used to do a lot of pictures of shoes anyway because I remember seeing them.  So I thought, oh he liked them then, let’s talk about my shoes.  It became quite a disillusionment in its way.  But on the other hand, it supported everything that I wanted to believe about him, that I was with Andy Warhol for an hour and he said nothing, except he liked my shoes.  Wow, that’s a real anecdote.  Because I’d bought the whole pop art thing that he wasn’t a real person, he was just a creation.  15 years after that, I would be looking at myself and thinking, ‘Don’t people realise that I’m a real person’”.

In 1996, Bowie would have the honour of playing Andy Warhol in the film BasquiatBaquiat is a film based on the life of another influential artist on Bowie’s work, Brooklyn born postmodernist / neo expressionist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Speaking of Bowie’s portrayal of Warhol in Basquiat after the film’s release, Paul Morrissey, the director of many of the films which Warhol produced told People Magazine:

“Bowie was the best by far.  You came away from Basquiat thinking Andy was comical and amusing, not a pretentious, phony piece of shit, which is how others show him … At least Bowie knew Andy.  They went to the same parties”.

Song of the Day: Authors and Literature in Music (Day Five).

Child’s Christmas in Wales, the opening song on John Cale’s 1973 album Paris 1919, takes its title from Dylan Thomas’ 1952 prose work A Child’s Christmas in Wales.  Whilst Child’s Christmas in Wales takes some inspiration from Thomas’ work of the same name, evoking the same wide-eyed wonder of a young child at a time of festivities, the song gives more than a passing nod to another Dylan Thomas work, the poem The Ballad of the Long Legged Bait (1946).

Musically, Paris 1919 is to John Cale’s canon as The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) was to theirs and strongly influenced by producer Chris Thomas’ recent experiences working with Procol Harum on their Live: In Concert With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1972).  Set amongst the  lushly orchestrated backdrop, the lyrics of the album are arguably Cale’s most impressive but confusing work to date. Child’s Christmas in Wales stirs a similar feeling to the Dylan Thomas work of the same name, one of magic and joy in the company of family and friends at that time of year with lines such as “With mistletoe and candle green” and “good neighbours were we all” but the songs setting, aboard a ship (“Ten murdered oranges bled on board ship”), shows the influence of The Ballad of the Long Legged Bait. The most obvious lyrical reference to The Ballad of the Long Legged Bait is in the lines “Too late to wait, the long legged bait Tripped uselessly around”.  The main character of Thomas’ poem is a fisherman who uses a girl as bait.  The fish violate the girl and she dies:  “A girl alive with hooks through her lips, All the fishes were rayed in blood”.  Note here the similarities between the line in Cale’s Child’s Christmas in Wales to the line in Thomas’ The Ballad of the Long Legged Bait. Other similarities include the references to cattle in both Cale’s work and Thomas’ work.  For example, in The Ballad of the Long Legged Bait, after various miracles and strange things happening, notably the disappearance of the sea, the fisherman sees “the bulls of Biscay and their calves” and “The cattle graze on the covered foam”.  These references to cattle and the replacement of one environment for another are mirrored in Cale’s Child’s Christmas in Wales in the line “The cattle graze uprightly seducing the door”.  Cattle are also mentioned in the second track of the album, Hanky Panky Nohow in the rather baffling lyric, “There’s a law for everything and for Elephants that sing to keep the cows that agriculture won’t allow”.

With Child’s Christmas in Wales, John Cale uses the influence of Dylan Thomas as a springboard to the set the scene for the evident themes of the sea, travel and war on Paris 1919.  The penultimate verse of Child’s Christmas in Wales (“Sebastopol Adrianapolis, The prayers of all combined, Take down the flags of ownership, The walls are falling down”) can be read in three ways.  Firstly, the walls falling down could be a reference to the magical occurrence where one setting is replaced by another in Thomas’ The Long Legged Bait.  Secondly, the lines could refer to the submission of the long legged bait with the flags representing the girl yielding to the narrator’s advances and the walls falling down representing her defenses tumbling.  Thirdly, it could be a war reference, with the flags of ownership representing either the countries at war and the walls falling down representing invasion and the assuming of control.  Just as Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales finds Thomas reminiscing about childhood Christmases, we could see the narrator of Cale’s Child’s Christmas in Wales as a soldier aboard a ship over the Christmas period reminiscing about childhood Christmases at home.

“Sebastopol” refers to the southernmost suburb of Pontypool, Torfaen, South Wales, named in honour of the Crimean city of Sevastopol (also known as Sebastopol) which was taken during the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) during The Siege of Sevastopol (1854 – 1855).  Adrianapolis is the old name for Edime, Turkey, the site of The Battle of Adrianople (378), fought by the Roman Army and Gothic rebels and the Siege of Adrianople during the First Balkan War (1912 -23).

Other places name checked on the album are Transvaal (The Endless Plain of Fortune); Andalucia (Andalucia, which also includes references to Agriculture with the character of Farmer John); Paris; Japan (Paris 1919); Chipping Sodbury (Graham Greene); Dunkirk; Dundee; Berlin; Norway (Half Past France); Antarctica and Barbary (Antarctica Starts Here).  All of these locations are also important in wars, battles and exploration.  They are as follows: The Second Punic War in 218 to 201BC and the Spanish Civil War in 1936 – 1939 (Andalusia); The First and Second Barbary Wars in 1801 to 1805 and 1815 respectively (Barbary.  The Barbary Wars were fought between the United States and the Barbary States, Northwest Africa after US President Thomas Jefferson refused to pay the high tributes demanded by the Barbary States and because they were seizing American merchant ships and enslaving the crews for high ransoms. The First Barbary War was the first military conflict authorised by Congress that the US fought on foreign land and seas); The Vincennes South Sea Surveying exploration which travelled to Antarctica (1839) (The Vincennes was the first US warship to circumnavigate the globe); The Crimean War in 1853 to 1856 (Sebastopol, as previously mentioned); The First and Second Boer Wars in 1880 to 1881 and 1899 to 1902 respectively (Transvaal); The Russo-Turkish War in 1877 to 1878 (Berlin, the site of the Berlin Peace Treaty in 1878, during which Bismarck’s decision to split Bulgaria would start a war in the Balkans 34 years later and would eventually lead to the First World War); The First World War in 1914 to 1918 and Second World War in 1939 to 1945 (Japan, which in alliance with Entente Powers played an important role in securing the sea lanes in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans against the Imperial German Navy during the First World War.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 led to the USA’s entry into the Second World War; Berlin was the site of the Battle of Berlin in the Second World War, which led to the suicide of Adolf Hitler; Norway, which was neutral during the First World War but subject to extensive espionage from both sides in the conflict.  Norway was occupied by German in the Second World War.  Both Britain and Germany had strategic interest in denying the other access to Norway; Dunkirk was the site of a naval air station which operated seaplanes during the First World War and later the site of the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940, ending the Phoney War and kick starting France and Britain’s major involvement in the Second World War; and Dundee, a major shipbuilding location during the First and Second World Wars).  The Paris of 1919 from which the album and it’s title song takes its name was the site of 1919 Paris Peace Conference, six months where President Woodrow Johnson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and French Premier Georges Clemenceau met to shape a lasting peace and redrew the borders of the modern world.

Elsewhere on Paris 1919, John Cale also references Shakespeare in the wonderful Bolan-esque stomp of Macbeth, employing both the characters of Macbeth and Banquo (“Banquo’s been and gone, He’s seen it all before”).  Although a welcome addition to Paris 1919, Macbeth seems oddly out of place lyrically.  Graham Greene is later name checked on the slightly whimsical sounding track, Graham Greene.  Graham Greene fits in with the war theme on Paris 1919.  During his life, Greene travelled around the world to remote places.  His travels led him to being recruited into MI6 by his sister Elisabeth, who worked for the organisation, and he was posted to Sierra Leone during the Second World War.   This fits neatly in with the theme of espionage on the album.  The mention of “Chipping and Sodbury” in the song Graham Greene could refer to Chipping Sodbury being a staging post for men preparing to go to France during the First World War.  Chipping Sodbury could also be mentioned because it was the location of an emergency hospital during the Second World War.  If we were to take the latter as the meaning for the use of these place names, it would be coherent with the lines “Welcome back to chipping and sodbury, You can have a second chance”.  Far from actually being anything to do with Graham Greene, the song may actually be about a wounded soldier in hospital who despite being injured is enjoying the grandeur of the hospital compared to the conditions he has lived in during the war.  The character in the song may be fantasising about “drinking tea with Graham Greene” and “making small talk with the Queen”.  Just as Dylan Thomas wrote about his past as a boy or as a young man, Cale also looks back to the past but expands this nostalgic view to encompass other themes such as war, travel, espionage to produce a piece of writing which, if looked at closely, reads like a potted history of war told through a collection of short stories.

I have tried to work out the meaning of the lyrics on Paris 1919 for years and just when I think I am coming close, I flail and submit like the Long Legged Bait, such is the majesty and mystique of Cale’s writing.  On Paris 1919, which the influence of Dylan Thomas resonates through themes such as the sea and lost innocence in Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas is merely a springboard of inspiration for an album which despite its overall accessibility could be John Cale’s most lyrically audacious and complex work, filled with multi-layered songs with multifaceted meanings.  Child’s Christmas in Wales is a stunning opener to an equally stunning album that enthrals, enraptures and captures the listener on each play.  It is obvious why Cale chose to position Child’s Christmas in Wales as the first track of the album:  This album is a voyage, one of depth and complexity, a concept album that is more than the sum of its parts and one in which John Cale proves that his writing should be equally as revered as that of Dylan Thomas.